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September 11, 2013 5:27 pm
A pair of apparent suicide car bomb attacks targeted security installations in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula on Wednesday, adding to fears that an anti-government insurgency prompted by the country’s recent coup is escalating and could be attracting al-Qaeda militants.
The alleged suicide bombers killed six soldiers in synchronised attacks on the headquarters of the armed forces’ military intelligence branch and a nearby checkpoint in Rafah, the town on Egypt’s official border crossing with the Gaza Strip, state media reported.
At least 20 others were injured in the bombings, which were accompanied by rocket-propelled grenade fire. According to state media the remains of the alleged suicide bombers were identified by the authorities. Security officials closed the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and tightened security across North Sinai province.
Ansar bayt al-Maqdis, an Islamist militant group based in the Sinai, claimed responsibility for the attack. Local media reported that the group is linked to al-Qaeda. Although this cannot be confirmed, the rare, carefully co-ordinated double suicide bombing, coinciding with the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the US, bore the hallmarks of attacks carried out by al-Qaeda or like-minded Islamist militant groups in the region.
Security experts fear that Egypt will see an increase in such attacks after the overthrow of the Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi and subsequent weeks of street clashes that have left more than 1,000 of his supporters dead. Islamist militants with apparent ties to al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a car-bomb attack that targeted Egypt’s interior minister in eastern Cairo last Thursday, injuring his guards and civilian bystanders.
The prospect of Egypt descending into civil war is growing as the army tightens its grip and the death toll from its crackdown on the opposition mounts
Wednesday’s attack appeared designed to undermine the Egyptian military’s claims that it was tightening control over the Sinai. Amid considerable fanfare, Egyptian armed forces on Saturday launched what they described as their largest military operation yet targeting militants in the restive peninsula, attacking suspected hide-outs with Apache helicopter gunships and hundreds of ground troops.
The army, which installed the interim government of President Adli Mansour after a popularly backed coup, appears poised to press for a renewal of the one-month state of emergency enacted last month.
Weapons from neighbouring Libya have flooded the Sinai since the 2011 collapse of Muammer Gaddafi’s regime, fuelling unrest there. On Wednesday, a large car bomb struck the branch of the foreign ministry in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, where US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed one year ago. One security guard was injured in Wednesday’s bomb, according to Libyan state media.
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